The founder and former executive chairman of electric truck startup Nikola, Trevor Milton, has been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on three counts of criminal fraud for making false and misleading statements to investors. The charges, brought by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, follow a year of turmoil for Milton, who resigned from the company in September 2020.
A year ago, things were looking good for Nikola. The company was drumming up hype about its Badger pickup (pictured above), which was to be sold with electric and hydrogen fuel-cell powertrains, and was about to announce a partnership with General Motors, with GM engineering and assembling the Badger and taking a stake in Nikola. Soon after, however, a short seller called Hindenburg Research released a report accusing Nikola of fraud and specifically accusing Milton of lying about the technology and capabilities of Nikola’s vehicles. The fallout from the report saw Milton resign and GM back partly out of the deal, saying in November that it would only supply the fuel cells for the Badger.
According to the indictment, from November 2019 until his resignation in September 2020, Milton allegedly deceived investors into buying Nikola shares by making untruthful statements regarding the company’s products and underlying technology. Following the indictment, Nikola released a statement clarifying that “today’s government actions are against Mr. Milton individually, and not against the company” and that “Nikola has cooperated with the government throughout the course of its inquiry
Last November, Nikola confirmed that it had received grand jury subpoenas from the Department of Justice regarding the fraud allegations, and in February, after an external review by a law firm, the company admitted that both it and Milton had made partially or completely inaccurate statements. Prosecutors in the indictment claim these false statements caused individual investors in Nikola to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Milton had previously tweeted that he would stand up against “false allegations” before deleting his Twitter account in September of last year and vanishing from the public eye. In its statement, Nikola said it is “focused on delivering Nikola Tre battery-electric trucks later this year.” The Tre is a cab-over semi truck that Nikola claims will have a 753.0-kWh battery and 350 miles of range, with production to begin this year and a hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain joining the lineup in 2023. Nikola’s stock prices dropped 10 percent in pre-market trading today following news of the indictment.
The McLaren 765LT, the stripped-down, track-focused Longtail counterpart to the 720S, is the third-fastest car at our annual Lightning Lap test with a time of 2:38.4 around Virginia International Raceway’s Grand Course. That’s not its only accomplishment at VIR. It also hit the fastest speed we’ve ever recorded—174.6 mph—on the front straight. Now there’s a Spider convertible model available to order, and like the coupe it’s limited to 765 units.
Its one-piece carbon retractable hardtop can be raised and lowered in 11 seconds (quicker than the 675LT Spider) can operate at speeds up to 31 mph. McLaren says it provides more headroom than the Coupe, even with the top up. The Spider also has a power rear window that can be lowered even when the roof is up like the 720S Spider (or the Toyota 4Runner), and you’ll have to pay extra for air conditioning or a sound system. The 765LT Spider is 108 pounds heavier than the coupe, McLaren says.
The Spider is still powered by McLaren’s M840T twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 that makes 755 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. McLaren says the Spider will reach 60 mph in 2.7 seconds, the same as the coupe. In our test of the 720S Spider, we reached 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. The 765LT Spider is equipped with Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires and features all the same weight-saving measures and aerodynamic elements as the coupe.
McLaren will only build 765 units of the 765LT Spider, and it’s available to order now starting at $388,000.
Henrik Fisker’s EV startup will bring a production version of the battery-electric Ocean SUV to the Los Angeles auto show this fall, following its first appearance at nearly two years ago at the CES technology show. Promised to come with a 300-mile range and a $37,499 starting price,prior to any incentives, the Ocean is slated to be produced by Austria’s Magna Steyr starting next fall, using Magna’s own EV architecture.
The SUV is due to enter production in the fourth quarter of 2022, a timeline from which Fisker has not backed away from since the deal with Magna was announced, with the Los Angeles auto show later this year serving as its big debut. Testing of production prototypes is set to start later this year, with the company stating that it has 17,300 paid reservations for the SUV so far in addition to 62,000 hand-raisers, as well as fleet orders from companies including Onto, Viggo, and Credit Agricole Consumer Finance.
“Our reservation and order process was designed from the outset to be transparent, to prioritize quality over quantity and to ensure our stakeholders have confidence in the commitment of our reservation holders,” said Fisker chairman and CEO Henrik Fisker. “As we get closer to launch, we will be working with our prospective owners to transition their reservations into contracted orders. We have many loyal supporters of the company waiting for their Ocean, and the reservation system is purposely designed to be fair to those who reserve with the intention to ultimately take delivery.”
The company also plans to open six Fisker Brand Experience Centers. The first such locations will open their doors in early 2022 in Los Angeles and Munich, with the rest (likely New York, Copenhagen, Miami, and London) scheduled to open in the second half of 2022. The centers are expected to serve as analogues to various company-owned stores launched by a number of other automakers, an approach popularized by Tesla, where customers can experience the Fisker models, talk to vehicle experts, and place orders.
Fisker the company has been on the periphery of EV startups the past few years, after briefly offering its Fisker Karma range-extended electric sedan early last decade, starting in 2011. That was a year before the Tesla Model S debuted, and for a brief time the two looked they had about equal chances of success in the marketplace. But just under 2500 examples of the Karma ended up being produced, with the effort stalling after its battery supplier entered bankruptcy. Since that time, the remains of the Karma project had been bought up by a Chinese industrial giant and rebranded as Karma Automotive, while Henrik Fisker has been plotting a return to the EV game under his own name, which has been imminent for quite some time.
That return began to seem more likely almost a year ago when the company announced that it had reached a deal with Austria’s Magna International to produce the Fisker Ocean SUV.
The Ocean will also arrive in a markedly different EV landscape than that of just a few years ago, as the list of competitors by late 2022 will be quite extensive. Just how Fisker will be able to distinguish itself and grab a slice of the EV pie given all the other players that will be in the game by then remains to be seen.
“With less than 500 days to run before we start on-time production of the Fisker Ocean, we are simultaneously focused on crafting our customer journey,” Fisker added. “Our brand experience centers will be the primary physical touchpoint for the majority of our prospective customers. Our global rollout plans are focused on the largest metropolitan areas for electric vehicle adoption—and where we can meet the greatest number of our reservation holders.”
Toyota’s Prius lineup in the U.S. used to include several distinct models but has now shrunk to include just the standard Prius and the Prius Prime plug-in-hybrid. But while the larger Prius V and the smaller Prius C disappeared from our shores years ago, the Prius C has continued on elsewhere in the world. It’s especially popular in Japan, where it’s known as the Aqua, and a redesigned version is set to go on sale in Toyota’s home market soon.
The new Aqua looks far more modern than before both inside and out and rides on a new platform with a 2.0-inch longer wheelbase. Its gas-electric powertrain uses a 1.5-liter inline-four gasoline engine combined with electric motor-generators, and it’s available with either front- or all-wheel drive. A new system called Comfort Pedal is able to use the regenerative braking system to similar effect as found in many EVs; lifting off the gas pedal activates the regen to slow the car, meaning drivers won’t need to use the brake pedal as often.
We don’t expect to see the Prius C nameplate return to the U.S. market anytime soon, meaning the Aqua will remain a JDM-only oddity for the time being. But we may see the Comfort Pedal system or some of its styling elements on future U.S. models.
The semiconductor chip shortage that’s affecting new vehicle supply and causing used car prices to climb is officially, concretely affecting new car sales. It’s not a surprise and dealers and shoppers all knew this was coming, but now we have the data to prove it.
Numbers collected by Black Book, Hearst’s data and analytics arm, show that new-car sales for June were down about 14 percent compared to 2019 (2020 is not a good marker to look at for comparison to what’s “normal,” since that was during the pandemic). This was the first month where the shortage affected actual sales. As you can see in the chart above, which shows the average number of new listings using a two-week moving average, the number of new vehicles available in the marketplace has dropped substantially.
Starting from a base of around 3.4 million units in May 2020, the number of new-vehicle retail listings dropped off to around 2.5 million by last July. But then it stopped declining, hovering between around 2.2 and 2.7 million for about nine months. Things started to decline in May and have only just continued to fall. For mid-July 2021, the number of new retail listings is around 1.2 million.
“We saw a substantial drop in available new inventory starting early in the spring due to chip shortage,” said Alex Yurchenko, senior vice president of data science and analytics at Black Book. “The inventory was dropping fast throughout the spring [as] dealers were selling everything they got with very low incentives and high speed.”
Looking forward, the second half of 2021 is likely to be another wild roller coaster for people looking to buy and sell cars.
“We expect the sales to remain below 2019 (and 2020) levels at least in Q3 with some rebound later this year,” Yurchenko said. “The timing is still a big unknown. Even talking to OEMs does not help. Once the production numbers are restored, we expect the incentives to go up as many OEMs will fight to regain market share.”
Around 17 million cars were sold in the U.S. in 2019, the fifth year in a row the industry moved that much metal. Yurchenko said Black Book’s current projections for 2021 sales remain at 16 million, with sales numbers dropping in the third quarter, and possibly also the fourth, due to the shortage.
“Our current view is that it will get worse before it gets better,” he said.
Hyundai has priced its new compact pickup competitively, but not as low as its chief rival the Ford Maverick. The new 2022 Santa Cruz starts at $25,175 compared with the Maverick’s base price of $21,490.
Granted, the Santa Cruz is better-equipped in its base form than the Maverick is. The SE comes standard with features such as 18-inch wheels, several driver-assistance features, and a remote-opening tailgate. It has a 2.5-liter inline-four engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive.
All-wheel drive is a $1500 option for all models equipped with the base 2.5L engine, which also includes the SEL, starting at $28,375. The SEL offers an Activity package for an extra $3270 for either FWD or AWD models, but Hyundai has yet to say exactly what’s included with that option.
The optional turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four engine is available starting in the $36,856 SEL Premium model, which comes standard with all-wheel drive. The loaded Santa Cruz Limited also has the more powerful turbo engine and all-wheel drive; it starts at $40,455.
Hyundai’s online configurator lists FWD SEL Premium and FWD Limited versions as well, but the company has yet to release pricing for those models.
Expect to see 2022 Santa Cruz models rolling into Hyundai dealerships later this month, as the pickup has already started production at the company’s plant in Alabama.